Pine Valley Golf Club
New Jersey, United States of America

The approach to the 13th green embraces the best that golf course architecture offers: the golfer is presented with strategic options ranging from playing safely to the right to attempting an heroic carry onto the green by going left over the penal sandy scrub.

Pine Valley has long attracted superlatives. It is continually judged as the finest course in the world in large part because many would argue that a) it possesses more world class holes than any other course, b) the finest eighteen green complexes of any course, c) the finest collection of three shotters, d) the finest collection of two shotters (especially those under 370 yards), e) the finest collection of one shot holes, f) the finest three hole start and g) the finest three hole finish. In between, it has a great halfway house!

In addition to it being a famous test of golf, Pine Valley served as a central gathering point for architects to discuss and analyze specific design features during the Golden Age of golf course design. Starting in 1912 when George Crump acquired the property,a who’s-who of architects came, saw, and in some cases contributed to its design: Harry Colt, Hugh Wilson, George Thomas, William Flynn, Charles Blair Macdonald, Walter Travis, Robert Hunter, A.W. Tillinghast, Alister MacKenzie, Donald Ross, William Fownes, Charles Alison and Perry Maxwell. They all appreciated that Pine Valley raised the standard for golf course architecture and these same architects account for the majority of the great courses found in the United States.

And though Colt was paid as an advisor by Crump, and though Crump consulted with many of the architects listed above, and though Crump died before the 12th – 15th holes were put into play, there is no mistake that Crump deserves the vast majority of the credit for the incorporation of so many classic design elements. Crump is the man who found the property, who lived on site and scouredit week after week to find the ideal routing, and who oversaw the detailed construction of fourteen of holes.

The initial 184 acres that Crump found that set the stage for this course is indeed remarkable. Set on sand dunes that bordered the ocean thousands upon thousands of years ago, the property was wind swept and scrub covered when Crump first saw it in or around 1909. One of the first architects to come see it with Crump was Charles Blair Macdonald who immediately noted, ‘Here is one of the greatest courses – if grass will grow.’

And Macdonald knew what he was talking about as the property that he found for National Golf Links of America is the only other property in the world of golf that can attemptto match Pine Valley’s for diversity and inspiration over the full eighteen holes. The same cannot be said for the property at Cypress Point or Royal Melbourne (West) or Royal County Down or even The Old Course at St. Andrews, each of which features nines of unequal merit. However, at Pine Valley, the level of excitement remains at an unsurpassed high from the 1st tee to the last putt on the 18th green, as we see in the hole by hole description below.

Holes to Note

1st hole, 425 yards; Considered the finest 19th hole in golf, the 8,300 square foot green starts as an extension of the fairway and ends as a peninsula with sharp fall offs on all three sides. The demand for clear thinking is immediate: with the front portion of the green ample in width, is the golfer content to be on the front and take two putts to get down? Or is he confident enough to chase after the back hole locations where the green narrows? A wonderful dilemma posed by a bunkerless green site.

As taken from the right side of the green complex, an approach lost slightly right is kicked away from the green and towards death. A similar fate awaits on the left side and over as well.

2nd hole, 365 yards; Some selective underbrush clearing has recently occurred on a hole by hole basis with the view that finding one’s golf ball and then hitting it is an integral part to the spirit of the game.The search process for a lost ball is quicker and indeed the golfer is more apt to have a recovery shot that he could attempt. The benefit of this clearing was seen when a play-off of six men for two spots arrived at the 2nd tee. Two of the six posted a bogey and a double bogey – and they advanced! The other four men had driven poorly and found their tee balls in the sandy ruts that line either side of the 2nd fairway. They then tried miraculous recovery shots which alas proved their undoing.While this fairway is perhaps the most imperative one to hit on the course, the real terror of the hole for the class golfer is its mammoth putting surface, with its series of waves that run from left to right across the pitched green. Why the contours of this green haven’t been emulated at other courses remains a mystery.

The green contours that make putting so treacherous are evident from the right side of the green. The caddie’s feet are well below the day’s back hole location.

3rd hole, 180 yards; Because of its high right side, the general right to left sweep of the green, and the bunker that protects the left side, many people consider this hole a Redan while in fact it is not. However, it may well offer more options than a Redan. Its front right hole location can be nightmarish but its back left one is lots of fun as the golfer watches from the elevated tee as his draw releases across the green towards it.

The imaginative shape of the 3rd green offers numerous interesting hole locations.

4th hole, 445 yards; Crump was a master at fitting the green to the hole. Given that the 4th is the second longest two shotter on the course behind the 13th, it comes as no surprise to find the green is open in front and is one of the biggest on the course at 9,700 square feet. The green itself follows the general slope of the land, which is from front to back. Having one’s approach finish near the front hole locations is tricky (as the ball wants to wander to the back) but the the golfer who takes on the dogleg off the tee gains a real advantage by coming into the green with a shorter club.

Because of its famous island fairways and greens, Pine Valley has been misunderstood as accepting only an aerial game. The approach to the 4th green is a clear example of the importance that Crump associated with the ground game.

5th hole, 230 yards; At Harry Colt’s suggestion, Crump pushed the green 60 yards further up the hill,thus creating a long one shotter that is considered by many as being the supreme long one shotter among inland courses along with the 9th at Yale, the 13th at The Addington and 6th at West Sussex. Some golfers more closely associate this hole with Pine Valley than any other thanks to its heroic and penal nature. However, other golfers who appreciate Pine Valley first and foremost for its strategic dilemmas may find a dozen or so holes on the course more readily appealing. Regardless, the hole is another example of Pine Valley’s sterling routing as it gets the golfer from the lower 4th green by the clubhouse up to the ridge that the 6th hole plays along.

The famous view of the one shot 5th, whose green is well elevated above its tee.

Nothing good happens to the golfer if he misses the 5th green to the right. However, some of the underbrush has been cleared since Gene Litter found misery in there during his 1960s Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf match. Note the fairway short of the green.

6th hole, 390 yards; This dogleg to the right features one of the game’s finest angles of play. To carry the scrub straight ahead off the tee is only 140 yards, but that would leave the golfer well over 200 yards into the green. Conversely, the boldest line requires a carry of 275 yards but the golfer would be left with a little wedge into the green. Regardless of which line the golfer takes, the closer his tee ball hugs the inside of the dogleg (i.e. the closer it is to the trouble), the better angle he has into the green, which is protected on its left front side by a bunker.

The golfer must elect which line to pursue from the elevated tee. The further right he goes, the shorter approach shot he’ll have and the better angle into the green.

7th hole, 580 yards; Relatively speaking, this hole occupies the flattest stretch of property on the course, so to give the hole life, Crump left what would become probably the course’s single most famous hazard – Hell’s Half Acre, which bisects the fairway from the 285 to the 380 yard mark. A.W. Tillinghast was mightily impressed and would later incorporate such a Sahara bunkering scheme into several of his finest three shot holes including the 17th at Baltusrol Lower, the 14th at Five Farms course of Baltimore Country Club and the 3rd at Fenway Golf Club. While Hell’s Half Acre puts pressure on the second shot, it’s actually the tee ball that is crucial for the good player: if the golfer doesn’t find the fairway, he knows that his only play will be to pitch out short of Hell’s Half Acre. The green contours are often overlooked but are among the finest on the course.

Hell’s Half Acre – with such natural hazards, Pine Valley enjoyed a timeless look from the outset.

8th hole, 320 yards; Given Pine Valley’s fearsome reputation around the world, many first time players are surprised to find that they are likely to have a short iron approach shot into at least four holes (here, the 10th, 12th and 17th). George Crump believed in testing the full range of shots AND he also understood that a ticklish wedge shot could be just as worrisome/vexing as a full blooded wood or long iron shot. Since Crump’s death in 1918, Pine Valley has never once fallen prey to the false quest for length that first gripped America in the 1960s and that is currently ruining such designs as Augusta National. Crump brilliantly kept the 8th short in length, thus guaranteeing that the golfer would have a pitch shot off a tricky sidehill, downhill stance. To compound matters, the tiny green measures a mere 2,900 square feet and now features a false front that Perry Maxwell built. Crump could have easily located the green some 30-40 yards further back (i.e. where the 9th tee is today) but that would have negated the need for the golfer to handle an approach from an awkward stance.

This photograph captures the 8th hole’s primary defenses: the sloping fairway and its tiny green.

Continued >>>